"The Seance" is the first student written play to be part of the main season of the SSU Department of Theatre Arts & Dance and the 15th play of playwright Dylan Waite's to be read or performed at Sonoma State.
Dramaturg Celine Delcayre, senior, helped Waite transform the initial draft throughout the production process, an extra set of trained eyes to make sure the characters stayed true with the changes and the play contained the same thematic consistency. Working together with director Jon Robin and the three students have quite the final product to be proud of.
Taking place in Fresno in present day during a water drought (there's the Water Works connection), Alex (Alexx Oddenino) has driven down from Oregon to attend her recently deceased friend / ex-roommate / one time lover's (also named Alex) funeral only to discover it's been moved back a few days because of the drought.
Unaware of both the change of date and of how Alex 2 died, Alex 1 finds herself confused and lost as she tries getting through the day with Alex 2's Fresno friends while constantly looking for answers. Why is there a drought? What does that have to do with moving the day of the funeral? Did Alex 2 ever mention their relationship? Why is Fresno considered the asshole of California? Alex 1 is thirsty for water and justice.
Alex 2's friends are a diverse bunch of individuals, each bringing something different to the play. Teddy (Christian Million) is rather content and seems more concerned about getting high than answering Alex 1's constant questions, while his best friend Devon (David O'Connell) steals the show as the foul-mouthed loveable jerk who has trouble conveying his feelings on the matter of Alex 2's death.
Their mutual friend Bryan (Jake Burke) is slightly troubled in general, conflicted with his sexual orientation amongst other things. He's a bit slow on the uptake, but is still goofy and charming enough to get away with asking certain questions. Bryan really evolved throughout the play, and I found myself rather smitten with him by the end.
And then there's the Jesus-loving good girl Katie (Samantha Loredo), whose chipper attitude was often the right amount of humor needed for the particularly darker scenes in the play. Constantly friendly yet conservative, Alex 2's death hit her just as hard as everyone else.
For those wondering if the title of the play is false advertising, allow me to assure you that a seance does happen by the second act. With the introduction of Rachel (Hana Casita), a rebellious free spirit and self-proclaimed medium, Alex 1 feels like she's going further down the rabbit hole when the notion of talking to the dead is brought up.
While Alex 2's death seems like it might set a macabre tone for the rest of the play, the constant (sometimes dark) humor in every scene does a wonderful job balancing emotions.
Just when things feel like they're getting too serious, Bryan or Devon just opens their mouth and the audience is relaxed once again.
I did go into the play thinking it might try to be a stoner comedy, one directed at the target audience of young people, but was pleasantly surprised when it became obvious that there was a stable plot. The play still is relatable with a younger demographic, but the themes of death and mourning are universally known with any audience.
The sets were simple, yet effective for the smaller size of the black box theatre. A play like "The Seance" relies more on the acting rather than the set and props, although the use of cigarettes did impress me as well as the soundtrack throughout.
"The Seance" was the perfect bold choice to open the main season with, for I now find myself anxiously awaiting what the department has in store next. With strong relatable characters coming to life from our own talented Sonoma State students, this play shows that the theatre department is definitely a force to be reckoned with.
The play will return March 27 to March 30, with shows starting at 7:30 p.m. (and 6:30 p.m. only on March 27).
Tickets are $10 to $17, with Sonoma State students being admitted for free for all performances. For more information visit http://www.sonoma.edu/waterworks.